Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
Efforts to end Yemen’s long war have stalled as Houthi attacks ravage the Red Sea and Western airstrikes against rebels threaten further hardship for the reeling country.
As recently as December, painstaking negotiations were starting to get off the ground, with the United Nations announcing that the parties to the conflict had agreed to work toward “resuming an inclusive political process.”
The Iranian-backed Houthis have seized control of the capital Sanaa and most of Yemen’s population centers since March 2015, months after they drove the internationally recognized government as far south as Aden. fighting against the Allied forces.
Hundreds of thousands of people die in combat or from indirect causes such as disease and malnutrition. More than 18 million Yemenis are in need of “urgent assistance”, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.
Fighting slowed significantly in April 2022, when a six-month UN-brokered ceasefire took effect, and has remained at low levels since then.
But attacks by the Houthis on ships in the Red Sea and retaliation by the US and UK have left the peace process “in limbo”, said Faleah al-Muslimi, a fellow in Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme. .
The Houthis, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, have carried out dozens of attacks on ships along key maritime routes since November.
According to the insurgents, 17 fighters were killed in recent retaliatory attacks.
“Peace in Yemen requires a different international and regional approach than currently exists,” Muslimi said. “The road to war was closed, but now the door to hell has opened again.”
Peace plan ‘no longer up for debate’
Hussein al-Oezzi, a senior Houthi leader, acknowledged this month that there were “obstacles” on the road to peace, blaming the United States, Britain and the Yemeni government for them.
But he told a news conference that “Riyadh and Sanaa have the courage to overcome these challenges,” without elaborating.
However, Majid Almadaji of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies think tank said that given the escalating situation in the Red Sea, “the peace plan is no longer on the table.”
In December, Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy to Yemen, said progress had been made on a roadmap to resolve key issues, including agreeing on salaries for civil servants working for the Houthis and restarting oil exports.
But Yemen’s Saudi-backed government is now eyeing “opportunities to flip the balance of power” in its favor, Madaj said.
Last month, the deputy leader of the government’s Presidential Council even called for foreign support for a ground offensive to support U.S. and British airstrikes against the Houthis.
In mid-January, Washington redesignated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, but lifted the designation in 2021 to facilitate humanitarian aid and diplomatic efforts.
But “I don’t think the idea that we (the U.S.) would build up enough anti-Houthi forces to resume fighting now is in the cards at all,” said Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen.
“We are not going down that path,” he told AFP.
The United States is under “tremendous pressure not to do anything that would undermine the (peace) negotiations,” Feierstein added.
“Watch me from a distance.”
Gen. Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Central Command, also downplayed the possibility of a “large-scale battle,” saying the U.S. has more pressing problems, including the Israel-Hamas war.
“Resolving the situation in Gaza and restoring some deterrence with Iran would be a much higher priority for me,” the retired general said.
Meanwhile, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is striking a delicate balance as the world’s largest oil exporter tries to emerge from an intractable war that continues on its doorstep.
The country is not part of the U.S.-led naval coalition to thwart Houthi attacks on shipping, and expressed “grave concern” and called for “restraint” after the first attack by the U.S. and Britain.
Riyadh will “watch from afar to see how far the US will go, but we will not engage in any fighting unless the Houthis target our territory,” Muslim said.
But even if Saudi Arabia moves away from a flare-up, the path to peace in Yemen remains elusive, said Mohamed Al-Basha, a Yemen expert at the US-based Navanti Research Group.
He said: “The international community is unlikely to support a Yemeni peace plan due to concerns about rewards to the Houthis for Red Sea attacks, which would freeze the UN-led and US-backed peace process. ” he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)